Monday, 17 October 2011

The Shine/Chime Screw-up

How could they?  They being the judges and administrators of the National Book Awards in the US who mixed up books and authors and created a huge painful mess.
Shine - with an 's' and an 'n'
Last week the shortlist of five was announced for the Young People's book award. Shortly afterwards, consternation, embarrassment, disaster. They'd listed Lauren Myracle's book Shine, when they meant Chime by Frannie Billingsley.
Chime with a 'c'and an 'm'
At first, they  clumsily added Myracle's book to the shortlist. Behind the scenes, pressure was put on her to withdraw. Today she did so, with enormous grace, saying:  'When I received the initial call about Shine being a finalist, I was humbled and honored to be in the company of such amazing authors. I was also deeply moved that in recognizing 'Shine,' the NBF was giving voice to the thousands of disenfranchised youth in America—particularly gay youth—who face massive discrimination and intimidation every day. So that something positive may come of their error, I have strongly suggested that the NBF donate to the Matthew Shepard Foundation [a charity focused on respecting human dignity among young people].”
The NBF have subsequently confirmed a $5,000 donation to the trust.
I felt pain on behalf of both Myracle and Billingsley when I read this story -  goodness knows how bad they must feel. Thing is, you don't write books with awards in mind (well, I suppose some people may, but I don't and nor do most writers.) If and when the call comes that your book has been honoured, it's incredibly special. It's a lovely surprise, a bonus, a joy -  but also a stressful experience, as you're suddenly part of a competition you hadn't expected.
Authors are not athletes, looking to stomp the opposition. We try and write the best book we can, for our own reasons. It's wonderful to win, it's less wonderful to come close. It's demoralising and disappointing to feel over-looked. But to think you're on a shortlist and then get taken off? To hear that your book has been mixed up with another one? That's an insult.
Awards for childrens' books aren't really about the authors. They exist to get children reading and reviewing, talking and thinking about what makes a good book. Some spark creativity (the Angus Book Award is a good example, with pupils creating book covers and films inspired by the shortlisted books). Others develop debating skills -  the Lancashire Book of the Year judges even take over the council chamber for their deliberations.
The best awards make all the short and long-listed authors feel special and celebrated. They take care of the authors involved and remember that we are  -  well, some of us are -  artists with delicate egos, not X Factor contestants. I've heard horror stories about awards which read out the books in descending order ('and in tenth place...') or tell the lucky winner beforehand, leaving the other shortlisters in anxious suspense.
It's not really that difficult to tell the difference between 'Shine' and 'Chime'. It's not really difficult to be sensitive, thoughtful and accurate. Lauren Myracle didn't deserve to be treated like this. Nor did  Andy Mulligan when he got booted off the Blue Peter shortlist.  I hope that the publicity boosted sales for both of them. And I hope it didn't spoil Frannie Billingsley's moment either. Perhaps they can combine to write about the experience. And call it 'Shame'.


  1. That's really sad to hear. It's like giving someone a cake and then booting them in the face just as they lick their lips.

  2. The debacle reveals some important things. What's really damning is that the NBF staff was not familiar with young adult literature enough to even know they might have a problem with confusing titles. It's not like Frannie Billingsley is an unknown. Both, in fact are reasonably well known and respected authors. Secondly, the awards have become a big-money maker and potential black hole for publishers. Publishers are required to send a substantial fee to the NBF for each book nominated as well as pay for the author and guest to attend the ceremony whether they win or not. If they win, OK, good publicity. If they don't, the publisher is out a lot of money and often has orders canceled by bookstores that had purchased books based on the original nomination. This can ruin a small publisher. Heads should roll. It also demeans Billingsley's book. Should it be picked people will be forever wondering what if..